Exactly one week ago, almost 2 million Lebanese people – close to 50% of the population – dropped their posts and flooded the streets of over three major cities in Lebanon to protest peacefully against the current government and the sectarian system it upholds. In the downtown Beirut Martyr’s Square – one of the few public spaces left in the country – over 1 million Lebanese people took to the streets after mismanaged fires ravaged Lebanon’s greenery, followed by an announcement from the government stating that new taxes would be instituted on its people.
Despite the spontaneous nature of the protest, the population’s outcry had been greatly overdue: massive government debt has reached 150% of GDP ($86 billion) still rising, while government salaries and wages have increased by 7.5% every year for the past decade despite the minimum wage remaining constant at $450 per month since 2012. Only one month ago, the Lebanese government declared an economic state of emergency as the country was at a standstill.
In contrast to what mainstream media has been reporting, the uprising is against the government’s rampant and uncontested corruption which has been going on for decades, slowly deteriorating the quality of life in the country due to the confessional structure, the bribes, the flagrant nepotism, and of course the broken and nonexistent government institutions. On October 24th, the riot is still going on its 8th consecutive day, and according to the Lebanese Constitution, marks it an official problem for the government to deal with.
Almost 30 years have passed since the country suffered a civil war that tore its multi sectarian structure apart and divided its population further into partisan groups, which are still very actively politicized today. The same families and parties have been in power and corruption has never been worse: civilians have no stable access to electricity nor water, inflation is spiraling every year, there are no public spaces or beaches left, no public transportation, the pollution crisis is reaching a critical stage of irreversibility, and the recent fiscal plans were aiming to raise taxes on everything, including free online calls facilitated by mobile applications such as WhatsApp and Facebook’s Messenger. This cocktail of corruption, indignation, and decreasing quality of life triggered the longest and biggest revolt the small Middle Eastern country has seen so far.
“I can’t afford my daily life, I can’t afford to be in love, I can’t afford to marry, I can’t afford to take care of my own,” said Hussein el Hek, a 21 years old protestor, “This is why we’re protesting. I can’t give loyalty to those who can’t feed me any more.”
The use of social media applications, such as Instagram, has been instrumental in spreading information and aid across the uprising population and rallying them together. And despite mainstream media failing to illustrate the situation to international viewers and governments, the Lebanese diaspora – almost 15 million Lebanese people – has managed to ignited sister protests in over 50 cities around the world.
This extremely high level of organization shown by the unified Lebanese citizens has already proven successful: the streets are cleaner than they were before the protests started, people who did not have access to such commodities before are now being fed and medicated, and even public spaces are being reclaimed. Overall, a general atmosphere of hope and happiness has taken over the hearts of these long-mistreated and divided people as they join together finally to demand a better life, one worth staying for.
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For the first time in a very long time, Lebanese citizens of all backgrounds and social classes put their religious and political affiliations aside, joining forces as one, taking the streets, closing roads, and mobilizing the country to peacefully demand the entire parochial government’s resignation and the formation of a new secular cabinet.
At the protests, people can find all sorts of food, transportation, medication, legal consultations free of charge, secular chants of unity, the music of all kinds (from techno to traditional Arabic music), information booths, recycling tents and cleaning stations. Even lectures on capitalism and political power are being held at the Egg, a reclaimed public building which has become a symbol of the revolution.
“The ‘hidden hand’ that politicians are speaking about and the ‘conspiracy against our sovereignty’ is false. The hidden hand … is actually just our dignity that woke up. We’ve been silent and sedated for so long, we’ve now awakened. They are not used to us, the people, having pride. But we’ll show them” elaborated Ali, 32, one of the thousands of unemployed Lebanese people
This revolution has become a beacon of hope for the Lebanese people, who are tired of seeing their children leave their homes in search of a better future and a better quality of life. And thus, a previously divided country is finally uniting and coming together as one against the failed system amid a fiscal and humanitarian crisis.
For the first time in my lifetime, I can finally say that most political emblems and propaganda have been replaced with Lebanese flags which were scarcely seen before the protests started. For the first time since I was born, I feel proud to be Lebanese and to identify with my patriot brothers and sisters who have taken over the streets chanting together for a better future.